Things are good as long as most interactions have at least one side familiar with existing site culture, but once you start getting outside users talking with other outside users in volume, there's not much left maintaining the older culture.

Worse yet, the new users may comply with the culture in form but not in spirit. In the concrete case of LW, this means new users who are polite and non-confrontational, familiar with the common topics and the material covered in the classic OB/LW articles, making appeals to all the right principles of epistemology and logic, etc., etc., but who nevertheless lack the ability and commitment for truly unbiased and open-minded discussion at the level that used to be the standard. I think this is indeed what has been happening, and I don't see any way an open-access forum could prevent this course of events from taking place eventually.

(It's hard to make a point like this without sounding arrogant and conceited, so I should add that in retrospect, I believe that when I joined LW, at the time it probably caused a net lowering of its standards, which were higher back then.)

Showing 3 of 5 replies (Click to show all)

Have you adjusted for the likely event that you have become more rational, and what you have actually observed may have been LW becoming at a lower level relative to you, whilst staying relatively flat or even improving?

5OnTheOtherHandle8yThis was my biggest fear in joining this community; I did not want to be the clueless kid who forced the grown-ups to humor her. I'm quite new, so I don't know how accurate this is, but I must say that the oldest comments on Overcoming Bias (around 2007-2008) were actually of a much lower quality than the 2009-2010 comments on Less Wrong. Maybe it was because OB, being sponsored by Oxford, had a higher rate of drive-by trolling? As far as I can tell, Less Wrong is still intimidating enough to deter well-meaning newcomers from saying too much, although nothing but boredom kills trolls. Still, anything that increases traffic will pull quality of discourse toward the mean, unless we can somehow accomplish the miraculous task of bringing newcomers up to the LW mean. Is there a way to quickly bring people up to speed on the spirit of the law, rather than just the letter of the law? Is there a way to make people want to display their curiosity, their ability to admit mistakes, their thick-skinned, careful consideration of criticism? Saying “I was wrong,” “Thanks for explaining my mistake,” “I’m confused,” etc is a sign of status among more established Less Wrong members (admittedly, the mistakes made shouldn’t be too elementary, and it definitely helps if you’re high status already). How do we get newcomers to care about this particular measure of status from the get-go? Make It Stick [] gives us a simple heuristic for getting ideas to burrow in people's heads and inspire them to action: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Story. This says to me that we need to distill the spirit of truth-seeking and truth-speaking into something with the emotional resonance of a proverb - while avoiding the creepy cult vibe that the overtly religious phrasing of the Sequences tends to bring about. We then need to display this short credo
10khafra8yWhen I first joined, I barely commented, because I felt it would inexcusably lower the average comment quality. I still refrain on topics which I’m interested, but not competent in; but for the last 18 months or so I’ve felt more comfortable with the vector my comments apply to the site average. Separately, I generally agree with Will Newsome about the high quality of your contributions.

LessWrong could grow a lot, but we're doing it wrong.

by Epiphany 3 min read20th Aug 2012107 comments


How do I know this?  I got a copy of the website analytics.

The bounce rate for LessWrong's home page is 60%!

To be clear: Over half the people who visit LessWrong are going away without even clicking anything.

Yet how many NEW visitors are there?  Almost half of the visitors are new!

Granted, new visitor statistics aren't perfect, but that's a LOT of people.

Simple math should tell us this:

If we got the bounce rate down around 30% (a reasonable rate for a good site) by making sure every visitor sees something awesome immediately, AND make sure that each visitor can quickly gauge how much they're going to relate to the community (assuming the new users are the right target audience), it would theoretically double the rate of growth, or more.  There's a multiplier effect if the bounce rate is improved: you get better placement in search engines.  Search engines get more users if they feel that the engine finds interesting content, not just relevant content.

It's been argued that it's possible that most of the bounces are returning visitors checking for new content.  Well if half the visitors to the site each month are new, and we did a wonderful job of showing them that LessWrong is awesome, then the amount of returning visitors could double each month.  We're getting a tiny, tiny fraction of that growth:

Why did I write you guys so much in the home page rewrites thread?  Because I am a web professional who works with web marketing professionals at my job and to me it was blatantly obvious that there's that much room for improvement in the growth of LessWrong.  Doing changes like the ones I suggested wouldn't even take long.  Because I like this site, and I knew it had potential to grow by leaps and bounds if somebody just paid a little bit of attention to real web marketing.  Because I was confused when I first found this site - I had no idea what it's about, or why it's awesome.  I closed the home page, myself.  Another friend mentioned LessWrong.  Curiosity perked up again.  I came back and read the about page.  That didn't make things clearer either.  I left again without going further.  Friends kept telling me it was awesome.  I came back one day and finally found an awesome article!  It took me three tries to figure out why you guys are awesome because the web marketing is so bad.  The new proposals, although they are well-meaning and it's obvious that John_Maxwell_IV cares about the site, are more of the same bad marketing.

I've been interested in web marketing for ten years.  It's a topic I've accumulated a lot of information about.  As I see it, the way these guys are going about this is totally counter-intuitive to web basic marketing principles.  They don't even seem to know how harsh users are the first time they see a new website.  They tend to just go away if it doesn't grab them in a few seconds.  They're like "well we will put interesting links in" but that's not how it works!  The links don't make the site interesting - the site has got to be interesting enough for users to click the links.  Thinking the links will make the site interesting is backward.  If you want to improve your bounce rate, your goal is to be awesome immediately in order to get the user to stay on the page long enough to want to click your link.  If it wasn't usually hard to get users to click links, we wouldn't track bounce rates. These guys know this particular group of users better than I do, but I know web marketing principles that they're not even seeing when pointed out.  To me, they seem to be totally unaware of the field of web marketing.  The numbers don't lie and they're saying there's huge room for improvement. 

If you want to grow, it's time to try something different.

Here's a thought:  There is a lot awesome content that's on this website.  We need to take what's awesome and make it in-your-face obvious.  I wrote a plan for how to quickly find the most effective awesome content (the website statistics will tell you which pages keep new visitors on them the longest), and how to use them to effectively get the attention of new users - copy the first paragraph from one of those pages, which was most likely constructed by a competent writer in a way that hooks people (if it's keeping them on the page then it's essentially proven to!) and place that as bait right on the front page.  (There is also a wrong way to do this.)  Then of course, the user needs to find out why the LessWrong community might be a place where they belong.  I shared ideas for that in "About us - Building Interest".

Don't let's assume that growth is going to be good.  You're going to get more internet trolls, more spam, (there's a way to control spam which I would be happy to share) and more newbies who don't know what they're doing (I provided some suggestions to help get them on track quickly, preventing annoyance for both you and them).  There will be people with new ideas, but if the wrong audience is targeted... well.  We'd better choose what audience to target.  I saw an internet forum take off once - it seemed to be growing slowly, until we looked at the curve and saw that it was exponential.  That of course quickly turned to a dazzling exponential curve.  Suddenly the new users outnumbered the old ones.  That could happen here -- even if we do nothing.  YOU can get involved.  YOU can influence who to target.  They're taking suggestions on rewrites right now.  Go to the thread.  I invite brutal honesty on everything I wrote there.  Or pick my brain, if you'd prefer.

What do you want, LessWrong?  Do you want to grow optimally?  Who do you want to see showing up?